by Dr. Don Fisher
I was thinking about two cruises I had taken over the last few years, both involving continuing medical education (CME). Florida-licensed physicians must have ongoing CME credits to maintain their license. Just this year in mid-January I was onboard Harmony of the Seas for CME offered by my medical school. I graduated from medical school in Missouri over 40 years ago and they decided to offer this cruise and CME course onboard the largest cruise ship in the world. Six years ago, I also took a cruise where CME was offered, however, at that time sponsored by the University of Miami onboard the MSC Divina.
Let me tell you my observations. Six years ago, I came across a Caribbean cruise, Holistic Holiday at Sea, offering CME courses. This cruise was different in that it was one week of lectures and onboard experiences to enhance health. Meals offered were vegetarian or vegan, provided by specialty chefs from around the country. Other interesting onboard experiences included stretching, yoga, Tai chi, meditation and cooking classes. This cruise was an eye-opener. People from all walks of life, including healthcare workers and physicians, were heading out to sea to spend time with like-minded vegetarians and vegans whereas I was onboard to get CME credits and maybe learn something new. Well, here is what I found. Lectures and lecturers were amazing, giving detailed scientific evidence for “food as medicine”. This cruise totally changed how I look at medicine, how I relate to patients and my health forever for the better.
One specific noted researcher, Dr. T. Colin Campbell, was giving talks on nutrition. He spoke about food and diet like I had never heard before. He described in detail what foods to eat and why. His credentials? He wrote the book—literally—on nutrition. The China Study is the largest nutritional study ever done on this planet. After hearing Campbell’s lectures and those by other physician presenters about the incredible health benefits from a plant-based diet, I was in!
It was especially interesting to see more than a thousand people onboard who were already following this lifestyle—they were healthy and looked the part. Some of us were new to this, including myself, and were overweight, tired and suffering with some health issue or other; we became very interested in all that we heard.
Fast forward to this year on my CME cruise in January. My fellow physician passengers were obese; they looked tired, stressed and overworked. The lectures on this cruise were typically about pharmaceutical interventions for disease with not much emphasis on being personally involved in one’s own health maintenance. It’s sad that doctors only have time for quick counseling and to write a prescription and even sadder that their patients think medicine in a pill or injection is a cure when simpler measures like diet and exercise are more effective with the positive side effects of things desired: weight loss and more energy.
The difference in cruises was profound and convinced me of several things about modern medicine. Things need to change. There is too little information for the public on lifestyle and dietary habits as it relates to health improvement. Physicians too frequently resort to the quick pharmacological fix rather than spending time talking about the benefits of nutrition. Today, medicine is a “pill for every ill”. However, the thing to note is “food as medicine” works optimally better.
Let’s look at one major example in modern medicine. The number one killer in America is cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, blood pressure, etc.) but it is largely preventable. Most cardiologists agree that diet and lifestyle are important, however, spend little time addressing this and are quick to prescribe medications (statin drugs, blood pressure medication, etc.). Let’s look at statins. This class of drugs lowers lipids when the dose is appropriate but comes with side effects. The important concept, though, is that statins will lower your risk of a major cardiovascular event like heart attack about 30 percent, however, a healthy diet alone can reduce that same risk by 90 percent. Even patients who have already suffered a heart attack can reverse their heart disease by adopting a healthier lifestyle including diet.
What diet are we talking about? The healthiest foods to be eaten include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, peas and beans. This is a whole food, plant-based diet and will provide all the healthiest sources and quantity of protein required along with healthy doses of fiber. Eliminate from your diet the major disease-causing foods which include animal sources such as meat, fish, chicken, dairy and eggs and all processed foods. An enlightening documentary that examines the principle of food as medicine is Forks Over Knives. The film features leading experts on health and tackles the issue of diet and disease in a way that will have people talking for years.
So, this tale of two cruises reaffirms my belief that medicine as we know it should and can change: Less prescribed medicine and more counseling patients to make simple, healthy decisions to improve their health outcomes. As one doctor put it, “Nothing, nothing, nothing will improve your health more than what you put at the end of your fork.”
I have been vegan since the first cruise. I no longer weigh 350 pounds and am off all prescription medications for prior illnesses which included gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), osteoarthritis, severe knee pain and high blood pressure. Best of all, I feel amazing and energetic.
In summary, I recommend the Holistic Holiday at Sea cruise which happens annually in the early part of the year. You can also visit me at The BEST Program Clinic, in Fort Lauderdale. As a catalyst, watch the documentary Forks Over Knives. Taking the first steps to essential change will make a world of difference in your health.
Dr. Don Fisher, an anti-aging specialist and expert in hormone replacement and cosmetic enhancements including facial fillers, is the founder and medical director of the South Florida premier anti-aging clinic, The Best Program, Inc., located at 1451 NE 4th Ave., in Fort Lauderdale. He was board certified in emergency medicine for 20 years before specializing in the anti-aging field. He has specific medical interest in sexual enhancement procedures, cosmetic enhancement, treatments with platelet rich plasma, bio-identical hormone replacement and food as medicine programs.